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Beyond the Book: Four Mini Executive Function Games For Story Time

Why This Activity?

Families:

  • Reading can put the “fun” in executive function! Build immediate memory capabilities through an activity where you and your child focus on specific elements of new and favorite stories.
 

Before You Start, Get Set Up!

Objective:

  • Exercise your child’s flexible thinking and short-term memory skills while reading fun books together

Executive Function Skills Practiced:

  • Cognitive Flexibility: Your child will have to react to different clues as you read together
  • Working Memory: Focusing on the clues given and story details

Materials List:

  • Familiar or new book from your home or library

Environment:

  • A quiet spot at home or at a library
 

Ready To Play?

Step-by-Step Instructions:

  • Choose the best starting level based on your child’s age
  • Move to the next level above or below depending on how difficult or easy the activity seems to be for them
  • Take a break if your child is having trouble sitting still for the whole book
 

Choose a Level!

 

Game Level 1–  I Spy  (2-3 years old):

  • Choose a book from your collection or public library and have your child join you in an out-of-the-way spot where they can focus on your instructions and the activity. 
  • Say: “We are going to look at this book together!” Begin to read the book. 
  • Stop on a page of your choosing and call out a familiar shape, color, or object (something green, something round, etc.). Prompt your child to point it out.
  • Try: Layering in other familiar elements for them to find as you work through the book.

Game Level 2– What Is Hiding?- Familiar Book (3-4 years old):

  • Repeat Level 1. Choose a book that your child is very familiar with. This time, before you sit down together, tape pieces of paper over a few important characters or objects.
  • Say: “We are going to look at this book together!” Begin to read the book. 
  • Stop at the first page with a hidden picture and say, “Oh! I see something hiding! Do you remember who/what we usually see on this page? Can you tell me?” 
  • Give your child time to follow your instructions. Then say, “You remembered that [item] was hiding on this page! Great job!” Remove the piece of paper and continue reading the book.
  • Try: Giving them clues if your child has trouble remembering what is hidden, give them simple clues.

Game Level 3–  What is Hiding?- New Book (4-5 years old):

  • Repeat Level 2. This time choose a book that your child is NOT very familiar with. Before you sit down together, tape pieces of paper over a few important characters or objects.
  • Say: “We are going to look at this book together!” Begin to read the book. 
  • Stop at the first page with a hidden picture and say, “Oh! I see something hiding! I will give you a clue so that you can solve this mystery. Provide a clue and give them time to guess.
  • If they guess correctly, ask follow-up questions to provide an extra challenge: “How did you know what was hiding on this page?
  • If your child guesses incorrectly, provide support by pointing out a similarity that may have lead them to their conclusion. Prompt them for another response.
  • Try: Continuing to give clues if they are still guessing incorrectly.

Game Level 4– Why and What If…  (5+ years old):

  • Choose a book from your collection and have your child join you in an out-of-the-way spot where they can focus on your instructions and the activity. As you read through the book, choose places to stop and talk about what is happening in the story. 
  • Lead your child through a discussion similar to this example based on “Puff the Magic Dragon”. 
  • Say: “The words say, ‘Jackie Paper came no more.’ I wonder why Jackie stopped coming to play with Puff. Why do you think he stopped coming?” “How do you think Puff is feeling on this page? How can you tell?” “What is something that might make Puff feel better?” “What if Puff had other dragon friends to play with? How would the story be different?”
  • Try: Looking for places to ask them about why characters are doing or saying things, or feeling a certain way.
 

After the Activities:

Talk and Reflect: 

  • Take a moment to talk with your child about what they noticed. What was difficult?  What was helpful?  What could they try next time?

Ask:

  • Was it easy to tell how the characters were feeling?
  • What strategies did you use to guess how the character was feeling? 
  • How did you come up with that reason for why he/she might be sad?

Additional Ideas & Resources:

  • Perform the activity at different times of the day to see what works best for your child.
  • Try some other quick activities that flex memory skills: Mindful Scavenger Hunt and Do You Know What’s Missing?
  • Ask older children to imagine different endings to the story and encourage them to create alternative storybooks of their own.

Want to learn more about executive function skills? Take our free online course.

How does your child engage with nature in their day-to-day lives? Read our summary of a study that breaks down how playing in nature can help improve Executive Function!